Senator Rand Paul took the Senate floor more than three hours ago, and there’s no sign he’s going to stop anytime soon. He and Oregon Democrat senator Ron Wyden promised to filibuster any reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire at the end of the month.
And for his colleagues who were planning to get out of town this weekend for Memorial Day, as he told donors earlier today, “I have news for them. They are going NOWHERE.”
However … Paul isn’t technically filibustering a Patriot Act renewal right now. The next item on the Senate’s agenda concerns a “fast-track” trade bill Republicans and the White House want to see passed, and the next vote on it isn’t scheduled until tomorrow. The Senate was in the middle of discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership when he decided to change the subject. And, because it isn’t technically a filibuster, it means he has a time limit, too. Paul — or Senators Wyden, Mike Lee, and Martin Heinrich, who gave Paul a breathing break by asking some questions, or anyone else — can talk about the Patriot Act until 1 p.m. on Thursday, as long as Paul doesn’t sit.
So while Paul is calling his super-long speech a filibuster, it is basically just an exceedingly long campaign speech without people from Iowa taped for posterity by C-SPAN. Paul filibustered for 13 hours in 2013. Given the crowded Republican field, a little publicity can’t hurt.
He even made an avant-garde web video with questionable (or artistic?) recording skills and music last heard during a Tetris game you played on a Game Boy in 1992 explaining his reasons for speaking today.
It’s not clear what will happen with the Patriot Act yet. The House overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act, which would stop the National Security Agency from conducting bulk collection of phone data, although phone companies would still keep this data. Senator Mitch McConnell would rather reauthorize the Patriot Act as it currently exists — or if the deadline gets too close and nothing looks feasible, a short-term extension on the Patriot Act. At this point, it’s not clear that either outcome has the necessary 60 votes.
Paul said today that he, at minimum, wants to be able to introduce five or six amendments he wants to add to the Patriot Act, and he is afraid “we may not get to vote on amendments, and we may not get adequate time to debate this, I think, important issue.”
Although Congress has listed June 1 as the big deadline, the Justice Department is advising that the NSA should start shutting down its phone-data collection program at the end of the week, so the agency doesn’t do any “unauthorized collection or use of the metadata” if the program does end.
Paul’s colleagues have had various reactions to his speech, which they all knew was coming, and the wider debate around the Patriot Act.
Only a few hours in, Paul already said a few memorable lines, including an extended Revenge of the Nerds and Founding Fathers fanfic mash-up.
The Bill of Rights isn’t for the prom queen. The Bill of Rights isn’t for the high-school quarterback. The Bill of Rights is for the least among us. The Bill of Rights is for minorities. The Bill of Rights is for those who have minority opinions. The Bill of Rights is for those who are oddballs.
Besides dealing with the Patriot Act and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Congress also needs to fund the Highway Trust Fund before June 1. It’s going to be a crazy next two days.